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Gisele Bundchen wears him on the runway, Johnny Depp wears him around his neck, and Benicio Del Toro becomes him in the new, highly acclaimed, two-part epic film from Steven Soderbergh, Che. Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the revolutionary who helped found communist Cuba, is the celebrity that celebrities adore. And be it Madonna, Rage Against the Machine, or Jay-Z, musicians really dig Che.
It’s something that baffles Cuban jazz legend Paquito D’Rivera. “Che hated artists, so how is it possible that artists still today support the image of Che Guevara?” Turns out the rebellious icon that emblazons countless T-shirts actually enforced aesthetic and political conformity. D’Rivera explains that Che and other Cuban authorities sought to ban rock and roll and jazz.
“Che was an inspiration for me,” D’Rivera tells reason.tv. “I thought I have to get out of this island as soon as I can, because I am in the wrong place at the wrong time!” D’Rivera did escape Cuba, and so far he’s won nine Grammy awards playing the kind of music Che tried to silence. But D’Rivera says Che’s crimes didn’t end with censorship. “He ordered the execution of many people with no trial.” Che served as Castro’s chief executioner, presiding over the infamous La Cabana prison. D’Rivera says Che’s policy of killing innocents earned him the nickname—the Butcher of La Cabana.
“We’re rightly horrified by fascist murderers like Adolph Hitler,” says reason.tv’s Nick Gillespie. “Why aren’t we also horrified by communist killers?” Certainly, Che’s body count isn’t anywhere near Hitler’s. But what about someone Che idolized, someone whom he might have liked to wear on his chest?
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